Sunday, July 5, 2009

Women of Afghanistan, Part Two

The first post on women in Afghanistan touched on some of the socio-economic difficulties faced when a country marginalizes half of its population. But really, the problem I have with the status of women in Afghanistan is more personal than that.*

*Yeah, we’re discussing “personal problems” now on this blog. Brace yourself for a bunch of touchy-feely introspection and stuff better left for a therapy couch.

It’s difficult to explain the effect that limited interaction with the female of the species has on a society and on individuals. To be honest, I didn’t notice it for the first month or so that I was here. Probably I was too busy adjusting to all the big differences (food, sanitation, work, etc.) to notice the more subtle things. Something was clearly different about this place, but beyond the obvious stuff, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was that seemed so off.

I’m not sure that even now I fully understand the ramifications of a male-dominated society, but I can tell you that it’s very different than what I’m used to, and not in a good way.*

*There are probably several of you (you know who you are) who are rolling your eyes right now and muttering words like “misogynistic” and “chauvinist.” Bear with me.

Now, to placate those aforesaid eye-rollers and doubters, let me state unequivocally that women, at least the ones I know, for all their niceties, can be annoying, difficult and even occasionally infuriating. Yeah, I haven’t changed that much; I still think that way.

But without the input and participation of women, or even their mere presence, everything changes in very subtle but significant ways. The tone and style of conversation changes, even if the content is the same. The tenor and feel of a meal is different, more atavistic.* Even walking down the street becomes a hyper-masculine exercise in territoriality, not helped by the fact that the big dogs have guns.

*The primitive style of meals probably also has something to do with the fact that Afghans don’t so much consume food as they attack it. With their hands. Somehow, if women were in charge, I don’t think they’d allow their men to eat like that.

Status is everything here, with a constant battle for superiority and dominance, over the nation, the tribe, the village or the office. Even in small groups of close associates, Afghans are constantly vying for position, always trying to establish their Alpha-dog credentials, or at least get as close to the Alpha-dog as they can. In many ways, the entire country is trapped is this bizarre hyper-masculinity, largely due, I think, to the total lack of the ameliorating influence of the female of the species. So, yeah, I kind of miss women. Who knew?

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